Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things to know about Belgium

You probably already know that Belgians produce a lot of chocolate (22 kg per inhabitant per year), and a lot of beers (800 varieties at last count). Maybe you heard that Belgium grants the most new citizenships per year of any country other than Canada? That despite the fact that income taxes are the highest of any OECD country. Fully 15% of Belgians are immigrants.

Although Brussels airport is the world's biggest chocolate selling point, you can find the best chocolate in artisanal shops around the country.

The most famous statue in Belgium is Manneke Pis, found in Brussels. The city of Geraardsbergen has a similar statue that has been around since the middle ages.

Belgium manufactures up to 80% of the world's billiard balls and the diamond bourse in Antwerp remains one of the most important in the world. Before WWII fully 95% of crude diamonds went through Antwerp.

Belgian billiard balls express delivery

Euthanasia and gay marriage are legal in Belgium (since 2002 and 2003 respectively) and more than half the government ministers (55%) are women. Although abortion is legal in Belgium and the Netherlands, abortion rates are the lowest of any country in the world, and that includes countries where the practice is illegal. Click here for more on medical care in Belgium.

Belgium has the smallest difference in pay between men and women. Education is compulsory up to age 18, the highest in the world. Legal drinking age is 16, one of the lowest, and possession of up to 3 g of cannabis is legal in Belgium.

Belgium has the densest motorway and railway network of any country and the illuminated Belgian motorways are said to be the only man-made structure visible from the moon -at night that is. In Belgium, you have to drive on the right hand side of the motorway, except to pass and you will get a ticket if you don't. You also can't make a right on red anywhere and as a cyclist you better obey traffic rules. If you don't have a Belgian address you will need to pay all fines on the spot. Fines range from EUR50 and up.

When in Belgium you need to carry ID at all times and the country was the first to introduce electronic ID cards. All citizens and legal immigrants have official ID's, while visitors need to carry their passport at all times. US driver licenses are not valid ID's. ID checks are rare however, except in big cities and late at night.

All bicycles in Belgium need to have two lights and reflectors in both wheels and the pedals, although the authorities never bother to enforce this rule when it comes to racers on training rides.

Belgium has more major one day UCI races (classics or semi-classics) than any other country and two of the five Classics Monuments are in Belgium (Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liege-Bastogne-Liege). The Belgian season starts with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Omloop Het Volk) held on the last Saturday of February or the first in March. The season closes in mid-October.

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